George Nolfi’s Birth of the Dragon is being released theatrically in North America in August… but might it yet defy the early nay-sayers the trailer created and prove to be a hit?
Philip Ng (Once Upon a Time in Shanghai) plays Bruce Lee while Xiao Yu, from Dragon Squad, plays rival martial arts master Wong Jack-man. The film is inspired by the real challenge match between Lee and Wong, a match that varies from a friendly challenge to a vicious battle to the near-death depending on whose account you listen to…
San Francisco, 1965: Bruce Lee has been making a name for himself in the martial arts world, but he courted controversy and criticism for his out-spoken attitude about real martial arts needing to evolve… and for his willingness to teach Chinese martial arts to anyone. A misunderstanding lead a Shaolin Master, Wong Jack-man, to seek out Lee, to test his martial arts skills at the highest level.
That’s the version the movie goes with… it’s not selling itself as the true autobiographical depiction of Lee’s life and times (unlike Rob Cohen’s entertaining if somewhat fanciful portrayal of Lee’s life in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and the sadly shockingly inaccurate – and at times almost insane – Legend of Bruce Lee series produced by CCTV with the full approval and support of the Bruce Lee Estate from ten years ago). Birth of the Dragon is inspired by true events, and real people but takes the idea of the challenge match and some events and people from Lee’s life and takes them in a new direction.
For some reason the film was accused, much like The Great Wall, of whitewashing (because as we all know that if ‘Giant Monsters’ had really been ravaging China, no foreign mercenaries in search of superior Chinese gunpowder would have ever worked with the Chinese forces to battle these monsters and learn anything about honour and discipline from them!). The claim is that Birth of the Dragon white-washes Lee’s life, citing that there’s a western character in there who has a relationship with a Chinese woman! (The question being, what’s wrong – Bruce Lee married a White woman…) Of course it was also not produced with the blessing or support of the Bruce Lee Estate, and there was quite a lot of press about that aspect.
No, the Lee Estate wasn’t involved and Shannon Lee said the film showed a “…lack a complete understanding of his philosophies and artistry. They haven’t captured the essence of his beliefs in martial arts or storytelling.” But Bruce Lee was a public figure and many of the accusations and backlash that spun off from the controversy seem to have been without seeing the film, and on the strength of a trailer that told the story as witnessed by one of Lee’s western students.
It would appear from new reports and audience reaction that there’s a counterpoint view that the film is not the white-washed tale some accused of it being. Indeed, I have a feeling that a lot of the early naysayers will soon be eating their words.
Either way, we at Impact look forward to seeing Philip Ng’s take on the Little Dragon, being portrayed at the time when the man was becoming a legend; when he was finding his way in the world and – yes – was, according to many who knew him at the time, a little cocky, and did sometimes literally banged heads with people over his beliefs… but we also want to see Shannon Lee’s upcoming Little Dragon movie which will focus on Lee’s early life and times, which will begin production this fall with Shekhar Kapur directing…